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Crotonblog Responds to Comments on the Essay on Civility

May 31, 2008

We thank the too-few commentators who responded to our request that critics define civility for us—but none ventured an opinion on the meaning of civility. Unfortunately, the essay generated more heat than light. Here is our response to the comments on civility and censorship in the chronological order in which they were posted:

This critic led off with, “Calling Abe Zambrano stupid is not civil. You can say that he did something stupid, but to imply that he himself is stupid is uncivil, and indeed stupid.” What Crotonblog had said was, “How can one courteously say that Treasurer Abe Zambrano, now bucking for Village Manager after only four years as Village Treasurer, was stupid and unprofessional for sending out phony water bills?”

We don’t know what the commentator’s definition of “stupid” is. “The Random House Dictionary of the English Language” defines stupid as “slow to learn or understand; obtuse” and “tending to make poor decisions or careless mistakes.” We therefore stand by our guns in the use of the word. Stupid is the proper word to describe someone who aspires to appointment as Village Manager and makes a rash, unprofessional judgment call. And if the village board should consider Mr. Zambrano for the post of Village Manager, we urge the board members to take into account that his unprofessional act was reported in newspapers all across the United States and made Croton a national laughing stock.

Let’s suppose that one of the recipients of a water bill in the thousands of dollars was a frail old person, nearly destitute and living on the edge of poverty. Such a person could suffer extreme distress as a result of receiving a phony inflated bill. What if that person had a heart attack or even committed suicide by hanging from the bathroom shower curtain rod out of desperation? Wouldn’t any professional who had caused something like that to happen be properly described as stupid? How would describing Mr. Zambrano as “someone who did something stupid” change the potentially serious consequences of his action or the liability of the village for his careless act? The news that Croton resident and former trustee James A. Harkins, Jr., has applied for the post of Village Manager is good news. Were he to be selected, Croton could rest assured that he would never use an absurd and unprofessional ruse like sending out phony water bills to get residents’ attention.

We thank this commentator for reminding us of the late, great Phil Hartman, whose Lionel Hutz character was written out of the Simpsons show after Hartman’s wife murdered him as he slept. “Benedict’s” memory of Barbra Streisand’s quotable line as being about a jerk not having to say “I’m sorry” was faulty, however. The line has an interesting history. It comes from the 1970 novel “Love Story,” by Erich Segal, who also wrote the script for the movie of the same name made from his novel. The line was supposed to be: “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.” It was actually misspoken from the script and became the smoother “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,”

The now-classic line is said in the film by Pound Ridge’s own Ali MacGraw to Ryan O’Neill and is repeated by him at the end of this tragic film. To capitalize on the popularity of this mawkish sentiment, two years later director Peter Bogdanovitch had Barbra Streisand reprise the Ali MacGraw line in the 1972 screwball comedy, “What’s Up, Doc?” She says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” to the very same actor, Ryan O’Neill. His deadpan response is, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Repeated use of the line was not plagiarism. Warner Brothers made both films. The American Film Institute voted the line as the No. 13 movie quote of all time.

“Wayne Stevenson”
The next commentator, someone signing a comment with what appears to be a full name, began by disclaiming any interest in the effusions of the group at the NCN chatroom. “Wayne Stevenson” then takes Crotonblog to task for its feud with that same group. Perhaps if commentator “Wayne Stevenson” had been a more frequent reader of that narrowly circulated NCN site, it would have been obvious that any feud that may exist originated with and has been relentlessly pursued by the NCN back-scratching group.

After briefly dwelling on the subject of civility, “Wayne Stevenson” then launched into a virulent attack on Crotonblog’s position on anonymity. Like the NCN group, “Wayne Stevenson” has a fetish about the use of anonymity, which unfortunately was not the subject of the essay. We don’t want to get into a pissing contest with this commentator about the advantages of anonymity. Suffice it to say that no cowardice can be implied to those who chose anonymity any more than those who sign names should be regarded as performing an act of bravery.

The naïveté of commentator “Wayne Stevenson” quickly becomes evident if we ask a simple question: How are Crotonblog’s readers to know whether the person who signed the comment with the name “Wayne Stevenson” is indeed someone named Wayne Stevenson? The truth is that a message signed “Wayne Stevenson” is just as subject to question about its authenticity as one signed “Jack the Ripper” or “Mickey Mouse.” So, we ask, is “Wayne Stevenson” a real person or is that name just another all-purpose stand-in name like “John Doe” or “Richard Roe”?

Perhaps “Wayne Stevenson” should be asked to provide proof of identity—a Social Security number or perhaps a photograph or a copy of “Wayne Stevenson’s” driver’s license—in order to be convincing. In this rebuttal, we have carefully avoided use of male pronouns in referring to “Wayne Stevenson.” For all we know, “Wayne Stevenson” could just as easily be a woman. That’s how meaningless and confusing a name appended to a comment can be.

We cannot avoid pointing out that “Wayne Stevenson’s” characterization of signing a name as an act of bravery and the use of a nom de plume as an act of cowardice happens to be a favorite theme of the NCN group the commentator despises. It cuts no ice with us, especially because the vast majority of contributors to the NCN blog who criticize Crotonblog for encouraging anonymity do so while lurking behind noms de plume.

This commentator dismissed the peculiar concern of some readers, who seem morbidly curious about the size of Crotonblog’s staff. To those who think a “masthead” adds luster to a blog, we urge them to start their own blog and people the masthead with familiar names that give them comfort. For our part, Crotonblog prefers that readers pay attention to the message and not to waste their time speculating about the identity of the messenger. We also agree with “oldtimer’s” observations about the bloated bureaucratic apparatus worthy of a city that Croton has created to administer the affairs of some 8,000 residents. The hamlet of Montrose is just as bucolic and desirable as Croton, yet residents there pay about one-third of Croton’s taxes on equivalent properties as a result of not having a totally unnecessary third layer of taxation.

“The Whistleblower Quartet”
The outing of commentator “notorc” as Croton resident Christopher Walsh in a series of comments in quick succession was a surprise to us. However, because Mr. Walsh later acknowledged that the information was essentially true, we saw no reason to remove the comments by what we call “the Whistleblower Quartet.” If Mr. Walsh is foolish enough to make anonymous postings as “notorc” but entrust the security of his identity to the garrulous Maria “Gabby” Cudequest, he has no one to blame but himself if his identity becomes public knowledge.

Mr. Walsh did point out an error in one of the comments. He no longer resides at 24 Quaker Bridge Road, so we are pleased to correct this information. He now resides at 113 Benedict Boulevard. Crotonblog welcomes him to our neighborhood. There is one disquieting aspect of the Walsh family’s arrival here. Since Mr. Walsh’s identity was revealed, his wife, Annemarie Walsh, has been making pointed inquiries in the neighborhood about the family of one of Crotonblog’s editors. In turn, our neighbors immediately reported this probing questioning to us. We have no idea of its purpose, but if this curious behavior persists we shall feel obliged to report it to the police.

Bringing up the rear was “weewill,” also known as Georgianna Grant, who has never lost her devotion to a Croton that may no longer exist. She can always be counted on to try to calm controversy and to apply soothing salve to wounds, but, for her, it’s always an uphill fight. Her long, multi-termed service as a trustee during which she expressed her opinions without fear or favor won her bitter enmity from a small clique that, like the elephant symbolizing their party, never forgets. The wonder is that she has never lost her concern for Croton and its people despite their relentless attacks.

As we said, the comments were on the meager side, and no one offered a definition of blog civility. Although Crotoblog has been the target of critics on the subject of civility, we can only express regret that so few critics were “willing to put their money where their mouth is,” to borrow a common expression. Remember that philosophical riddle frequently propounded during college bull sessions? It goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” We’d like to propose a variant: “If persons claiming to be readers complain about lack of civility but, when given the opportunity, fail to offer any guideposts to indicate where civility ends and incivility begins, can their complaints about lack of civility be regarded as serious?”

So ends our noble experiment. We close this response by repeating a key paragraph from the original essay on civility. It states our position without equivocation: “We remind critics and readers alike that Crotonblog is a private enterprise, owing nothing to the public, which grants it no franchise. It is therefore affected with no public interest. It is emphatically the property of its owners, who created it and make it available to the public at no charge and with no obligation on the part of the public to read it.”


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